Ahoy, crew! Ahoy, captain! I guess I’m not the only one who’s wished to call his companions this way, as a captain of a pirate ship. This is something that Sea Of Thieves has been bringing to us for years now. Even though it had a bumpy start. Currently, the Rare studio’s game is gaining a wave of new fans along with each and every update or a new season’s trailer. Whereas the score by Robin Beanland is a good example of writing boozy music filled with rum. That’s why we chewed the fat with the composer, talking about how the hurdy-gurdy instrument impacted on the soundtrack’s mood and what we can expect from audio in Sea Of Thieves in the future.
Rare studio’s game is gaining a wave of new fans along with each and every update or a new season’s trailer.
What was the hardest part for you when you was composing the music to Sea of Thieves?
One of the conversations we had early on was how we didn’t want to infer an emotion with the music that the player wasn’t experiencing. A good example of this was when I wrote some ship combat music that would trigger when two ships got in a certain proximity of each other. Gregg (Mayles) rightly pointed out, that the players may just want to pull alongside each other and play shanties together.
But if we play combat music, we’re almost forcing the players to start firing canons at each other. So we scaled that music right back to simple combat stings. so if a player fired a cannonball at another ship and it hit it, then the combat sting would play, but only for the player who fired the shot. This was a really interesting way to approach the composing in Sea of Thieves early on. The challenge was to write music that felt tonally correct, but didn’t infer an emotion that the player wasn’t experiencing.
From the very beginning you know how does the music to Sea of Thieves should sound like or did you had another ideas for it? Can you tell us something more about it?
I think a big part of this is the sound palette we landed on. This was helped enormously by the instruments we employed for the task. We didn’t want the music to sound too polished or perfect, so we bought some instruments that were creaky and a bit beaten up…Almost as if they’d spent their lives on a pirate ship. A good example this is the concertina. We went to a music store where they had a large glass cabinet of concertinas.
We started taking them out of the cabinet one by one and would play a few notes on each instrument. But they all sounded a bit clean and nice. then we noticed this rather beaten up concertina at the back of the cabinet. we played a couple of notes on it and immediately said “that’s the one!” It just had this incredible creak and wheeze to the bellows and rather dull, almost distorted tone to the reeds…It was perfect!
How does the first sketches of the tracks to Sea of Thieves looked like? Did you had at the end of your work to resign from the part of your ideas?
For anything melody driven, I generally start by noodling around on a piano instrument in ProTools (usually mini grand which is the free piano plugin that comes with the software) and make a sketch of the chord progression and melody. Once I have that foundation, I build the arrangement up from there.
You once mentioned that you like using a Hurdy gurdy against different surfaces. What are your other favourite forms of creating unique and unobvious sounds?
It’s been really fantastic to make use of these weird and wonderful instruments on Sea of Thieves. The hurdy is a good example of that. Another favourite is the nyckelharpa. It’s great for me, because I’m so unfamiliar with these instruments, it’s good to set the DAW recording and just start trying to play something. It’s amazing how you subconsciously come up with different melodies or textures that you wouldn’t normally come up with on an instrument that you’re familiar with.
What new challenges were you facing? Was it harder or easier this time?
I touched on this before, but i think trying to write music that didn’t infer a particular emotion because we didn’t know what the player would be feeling at that moment in time was quite challenging.
Your music has a very particular style. Did you change anything in your approach toward composing while you worked on Sea of Thieves and DLC, or was your unique sound perfect for the game’s narration?
As a rule, I try to find a unique signature for each game i work on, so I tend to spend the early part of of the game development finding an interesting sound palette for the game that will give it its own signature.
We didn’t want the music to sound too polished or perfect. – Robin Beanland
What was the weirdest instrument you used for the Sea of Thieves score?
I think that definitely has to be the waterphone. It’s such an unusual instrument to play…I quickly learned that the only rule is to make sure that you’re in record, because you’ll never get the same performance out of it twice, so you have to be make sure you recording so that you can capture those wondrous ear snacks.
Can you tell us in a few words how your career as a game music composer started?
At the time (1994), I was working for composer Christopher Norton in my hometown of Leeds. I was assisting Chris writing music for TV and composing music for library albums. My brother showed me a small ad in Edge magazine for a company in Twycross looking for composers. I sent a tape in, got an interview and a few weeks later was offered a job to come and work in-house! I’ve been there ever since and to this day, it still holds the magic that it did when I walked through those gates on the 5th of April 1994.
While you were writing music for the Conker’s Bad Fur Day, did you use any unconventional song writing methods? If so, what methods did you apply?
I suppose musically the only thing that was a bit unconventional was when Chris (Seavor) the game director came to me one day and said “I’ve got an idea for an end of level boss who’s a giant singing turd” Do you think you could write a song for him? From there I had to figure out a song that could incorporate sections of gameplay where the boss would sing arpeggios that could be cutoff by the player throwing giant toilet rolls into his mouth.
Do you have any video game soundtracks that you particularly like?
I absolutely love Tomáš Dvořák’s scores for Machinarium and Samorost 3.
Also, Austin Wintory’s beauteous score for Journey. Not forgetting of course Michael Land’s amazing work on the Monkey Island games.
How should good cooperation between a composer and a sound designer look like, according to you?
I think it’s a case of keeping each other informed about your thinking on whatever part of the game you’re currently working on. We tend to send each other captures of our work in progress, so that we that we can be mindful not to step on each others toes. I realise i’m incredibly fortunate to be in house where that communication and iteration is instantaneous.
Video game music is becoming more and more similar to the film music. Do you think that’s the right way?
I think we now have the same production values as films, but for me that’s where the similarity ends. Films are linear, games aren’t. For a long time it feels like games have been going “look, we’re just like the movies” but I truly believe games are their own art form and should follow their own path, it’s an interactive medium and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to explore where that can be taken musically.
Find what works for you and get creating. – Robin Beanland
Do you recall what was your first memory in connection with music in general?
Hmmm…I reckon it was probably singing along to Don’t Let Me Down by The Beatles in the back of my parents car.
What methods do you use in order to make the composing process easier for you?
I suppose technology is helping to make it easier and easier to make music to a high quality. When I think back to the days of a four track portastudio and a sampler with 8 seconds of sampling capability (that cost a small fortune) to where we are now, it’s absolutely fantastic! I love that music making has become so accessible and available for a relatively small cost.
Do you have any projects planned for the future which you could share with us?
I’m currently also scoring the music for Everwild, but that’s as much as I can share.
What would be your advice for the young composers?
Look after your fitness and mental health. I took up cycling several years ago and I absolutely love it! I think if you can find a fitness activity that you enjoy, it will pay dividends into your well being, creativity and mental health. Also, don’t obsess over which DAW to use, they all (pretty much) do the same thing…Find what works for you and get creating. So often I find the folks who get embroiled in all the “DAW war” nonsense don’t actually write much music…They’re too busy on the forums. There’s a wealth of resources out there online…rickbeato.com pianobook.com labs.spitfireaudio.com to name a few. get learning and get creating would be my advice.